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Ben Brewer, Deseret News
Football 3A Quarterfinal Football between Hurricane and Juan Diego, Friday, Nov. 2, 2012.
We’re fast; we’re big; it’s a bunch of good kids — might be the best bunch we’ve had. —Stansbury coach Clint Christiansen

MONDAY: Region 8 Preview

Heading into the 2013 high school football season, on paper there’s not a region more unbalanced in the entire state than the newly created 3AA North region.

The gap between the top and the bottom is staggering to say the least.

Juan Diego and Stansbury are the unquestioned class of the region. The teams combined for a 23-2 record last season, with their lone losses each coming to eventual state champion Dixie.

“Juan Diego and Stansbury are going to give you all they can handle,” said Bear River coach Chris Wise.

For reigning Region 11 champion Stansbury, Utah State commit Chase Christiansen is one of the elite athletes in 3AA. As a junior last year the option quarterback rushed for 963 yards and 19 TDs. Defensively he added 65 tackles at linebacker.

He’s one of eight returning starters on each side of the ball, a big reason the Stallions are a legitimate 3AA state title contender.

“We’re fast; we’re big; it’s a bunch of good kids — might be the best bunch we’ve had,” said Stansbury coach Clint Christiansen. “Fifth year this school is open and this is probably the best team we’ve had so far. But, we haven’t played any games yet either.”

The bread and butter of defending Region 10 champion Juan Diego will be the 1-2 punch of Chase Williams and Jessie Springer, who each had more than a 1,000 yards and double-digit touchdowns a year ago.

“We’re kind of old school. You read all of these other reports and everybody is doing spread and everything else,” said Juan Diego coach John Colosimo. “Our quarterback will be under center and we’re going to hand it off a lot. We plan to give (Williams and Springer) lots of carries, get them lathered up, and hopefully repeat the success they had last year.”

Last season they combined for a staggering 324 carries.

After the big two in 3AA North, there’s a moderate drop off to Bear River, and then on paper it’s a staggering drop to the remaining four teams.

Bear River is coming off a respectable 7-5 season and a 3A quarterfinal appearance, and has four returning starters on the offensive line to potentially challenge Juan Diego and Stansbury at the top of the region. The Bears did lose, however, to Stansbury last season in region play 37-18.

“We’ve got some really good senior leadership, and that’s what you have to gauge it on,” said Wise. “I know I sound like a broken record, but up there it’s about staying healthy. We’re really working hard in the weight room and hopefully we can stay healthy that way because we don’t have a whole lot of depth.”

As for the rest of the region, their combined record in 2012 was 3-35. None expect similar mediocrity in 2013.

Park City and Ben Lomond have new coaches and are confident in having bounce-back seasons, whereas Tooele is optimistic under third-year coach Kyle Brady and Uintah feels the same way with second-year coach Cody Reutzel.

If nothing else, the teams are guaranteed to combine for six victories with all the crossover region games.

Park City is turning the program over to Mike Shepherd, who previously coached the Miners to a 53-28 record from 1998 to 2004. He believes a change in attitude is necessary to get the program back to respectability.

“I think the biggest thing is the kids need to believe that being a part of our program is something that is good for them — that they’re going to enjoy,” said Shepherd. “I do believe that the kids we have out here do feel that way and believe that.”

A similar thing is happening in Vernal, where Uintah hasn’t won a playoff game in 11 years.

“That’s one thing that’s changed a little is we are starting to get some of our good athletes in the school to come out and play, and we’re keeping the ones who are good,” said Reutzel. “You can’t coach without talent. That’s kind of the first step, make a program the kids want to be around so we can get the kids out and keep them out.”

Tooele’s talent is young, and might be a year away from reaching its potential. Ben Lomond has a new coach with Aaron Dooley, its fourth new coach in four years.

Deseret News projections for 3AA North football teams in 2013

(Preseason rankings are based on coaches’ votes)

1. JUAN DIEGO: A year after losing in the semifinals, Juan Diego returns five starters on each side of the ball in hopes of getting back to the top of 3A after winning three straight titles from 2008 to 2010. Offensively it starts with running backs Chase Williams and Jessie Springer. The two combined for 2,508 rushing yards and 28 TDs last season. Cole Nelson takes over as quarterback for the Soaring Eagle after starting two games last year. Harry Jones and Jacob Nelson will also be key offensively. Defensively, safeties Nelson and Cameron Hansen could emerge as the leaders of the defense. Jones and Springer will anchor the linebacker positions. 2012 RECORD: 12-1. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Dixie in semifinals.

2. STANSBURY: The Stallions return eight starters on both sides of the ball from a team that lost one game last season. Offensively it starts with Chase Christiansen, a Utah State commit was can dominate at QB and linebacker. He’s not alone offensively, though. Zayne Anderson is an explosive running back who has an offer from Utah State too. Jesse Horowitz and Nick Mackay are powerful fullbacks who should excel behind a strong offensive line. Defensively, University of Utah commit Allan Havili is a beast on the defensive line and is arguably the toughest player to block in 3AA. 2012 RECORD: 11-1. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Dixie in quarterfinals.

3. BEAR RIVER: It all starts up front for the Bears, who return Justus Wise, Branson Fonnesbeck, Braden Pugsley and Carson Gibbs on the offensive line. The quartet should help ease the transition as Jardee Nessen takes over at QB. Colton Jensen was among the leading receivers in 3A last year with 754 yards on 39 receptions, and he’ll definitely be targeted more frequently this season as perhaps the best possession receiver in 3A. Defensively, Bear River graduated its four leading tacklers from a year ago, but there’s experience to absorb the absences. Taylor Lund is an outstanding outside linebacker for the Bears, while Pugsley will anchor one of the middle linebacker positions. The defensive line will be led by Jermaine Selman and Parker Lewis. 2012 RECORD: 7-5. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Desert Hills in quarterfinals.

4. PARK CITY: A year after giving up 443 points, Park City is turning to former coach Mike Shepherd to turn the program around. Shephard was previously a coach at Park City from 1998 to 2004. QB Ian Mortiz is back this season after starting as a sophomore, and he’ll be leading Park City’s new hybrid-fly offense. Alec Wing will be a key skill-position player on offense, but the offensive line is certainly a question mark with all newcomers. Defensively, the heart of the team will be returning starting linebacker Konnor Andersen. He’s a powerful run-stopper who had 90 tackles as a junior. Jonathan Hockman is a move-in from Washington who should be a nice addition at linebacker. 2012 RECORD: 1-9. PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify.

5. UINTAH: It’s been 11 years since Uintah’s football team won a playoff game and four since it enjoyed a winning record. Second-year coach Cody Reutzel believes the necessary steps are being taken to change all that. With four returning starting O-linemen, and the return of a healthy Braxton Coonis at QB after he was limited to just three games last season, there’s reason to be excited. Realistically, the Utes have no place to go but up after finishing in the bottom five in 3A last year with 15 points per game. Depth on the defensive line and a strong linebacking corps should help as well. It starts with Dylan Hanks, an awesome middle linebacker who has a knack for making plays instinctively. He led the team with 83 tackles last season. 2012 RECORD: 1-8. PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify.

6. TOOELE: Tooele was the third lowest-scoring team in 3A last year at 11 ppg, but expect much more efficiency this season in the second year of the school running the wing-T offense. It starts up front with returning starters Tony Leakahe and Ethan Reynolds, who have a better understanding of the offense. JD Furuta, Ryan Brady and Adam Pace will be the primary ball-carriers. Pace led the team with 466 yards last year. Andrew Spendlove is moving from tight end to wing back, a move that’s primarily being made for his blocking ability. Coach Kyle Brady’s younger siblings will play key roles as well, with junior Jake Brady starting at QB and sophomore Ryan Brady starting at running back. 2012 RECORD: 1-9. PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify.

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7. BEN LOMOND: Aaron Dooley takes over the Ben Lomond program after coaching the ninth-grade team last season. He inherits arguably the most difficult job in the state. He’s the fourth head coach in the past four seasons at Ben Lomond, and the combined record the past three years is 2-25. Senior Randhu Zavala is a returning starter on the offensive line at 275 pounds. Linebacker Alberto Garciloza is one of the team’s top returning players on defense. 2012 RECORD: 0-9. PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify.

CONTRIBUTING: Trevor Phibbs and Sarah Thomas.

Follow Deseret News prep editor James Edward on Twitter @DNewsPreps